Washington Episcopal Bishop John B. Chane’s announcement that he expects to retire in the fall of 2011 wraps up nine years at the helm of a diocese he acknowledged had not grown or prospered during his tenure.
“I call for this election not because of any health reasons, or because I am burned out or bored,” Bishop Chane, 65, told about 325 people Saturday at the annual diocesan convention at the Washington Cathedral. “I don’t know how any bishop could ever be bored serving this diocese. It’s a very lively place.
“I love what I do and I deeply love this diocese. When the time actually comes to turn over the crozier to another, it will be a very emotional time for me.”
Saying it was time to elect someone younger “to lead what I consider to be the best and one of the most influential dioceses in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion,” he suggested that his successor be elected in June 2011 and be given several months to train under him before he departs in the fall.
Delegates gave him a lengthy standing ovation. A search committee will start the process soon of looking for the bishop’s replacement.
Although the 42,000-member D.C. diocese has quadrupled its Spanish-speaking members, “a number” of its 91 congregations are struggling and some are not paying their bills, the bishop said.
“Financial giving has been stagnant,” he added. “Parochial reports filed by the parishes of our diocese for the most part tell a story of no real measurable growth in membership within the last 12 years.
“The budget that supports the missionary work of the diocese to its congregations, schools and our mission outreach beyond our borders has been stagnant as well. Any financial growth has come primarily through the bishop’s annual appeal and from the generosity of individuals, some who are not even Episcopalians.
“There has been no strong upward trend in pledged giving to the diocese by our congregations. And we have not received any large, unexpected financial gifts from those who have remembered the diocese in their wills or in large, unrestricted gifts received from the living to preserve our outreach ministry to our Episcopal schools, our campus ministries and our outreach to an exploding Spanish-speaking community that resides within our geographic boundaries,” Bishop Chaine said.
Growing churches near the theologically liberal diocese include McLean Bible Church in Northern Virginia, Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., Jericho City of Praise in Landover, Md., and National Community Church in the District. All are evangelical and conservative.
In contrast, the Washington Diocese has become known for its support of the District’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage and for allowing such ceremonies in its sanctuaries. Its parent denomination, the Episcopal Church, has lost several hundred thousand adherents in the past seven years, chiefly over the election of an openly gay bishop in 2003 — a move Bishop Chane supported.
Bishop Chane took the helm of the diocese in 2002 with a series of confrontational moves. On the Sunday after his consecration, he informed the congregation at the Washington Cathedral that he aimed to “engage the secular and political leadership of the District of Columbia, the Congress of the United States and those who hold the highest elected and appointed offices of this nation.”
During the consecration, he had the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, an anti-war activist from the Vietnam era, preach the homily. Delivering an Easter sermon a few months earlier, while dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, he questioned the validity of the Resurrection.
Once installed, the new bishop imported a number of liberal clergy onto his staff, including retired Massachusetts Suffragan Bishop Barbara Harris. He quickly commissioned a diocesan same-sex marriage rite and performed it himself in June 2004.
Bishop Chane privately reached out to the few conservative clergy and churches that remained in the diocese, first of all negotiating an agreement with a conservative Accokeek, Md., parish with which the diocese was embroiled in a lawsuit.
He agreed to allow conservative bishops — such as retired Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey — to perform confirmations in his stead at theologically traditional parishes such as All Saints in Chevy Chase, Md. Last month, when All Saints proposed a resolution asking that its point of view be respected throughout the diocese, Bishop Chane, on point of personal privilege, said he favored extending “generous pastoral care” to theological minorities.
Bishop Chane eventually moved toward more behind-the-scenes work. He often teamed up with Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno in various negotiations with conservative bishops or with Anglican officials overseas.
He tried his hand at reaching out to Muslims, causing a stir in 2006 when he invited former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to speak at the cathedral. The bishop has since traveled to Iran several times.